Those who can’t find anything to live for,
always invent something to die for.
Then they want the rest of us to
die for it, too.
The most serviceable definition of “culture” I’ve encountered came from an art history professor, Fritz Blodgett. He defined it as “the sum of learned behavioral traits.” From this viewpoint, “culture” isn’t just high art like opera or low opera like professional wrestling, and it includes how or whether you use a fork to eat, for example. Professor Blodgett encouraged us to see visual art in the context of the whole culture, not as a sequestered thing.
I find myself ever more alienated from “my” culture, chiefly because of aging but also because of temperament. The extent to which most people seem attached to their phones seems alien to me, but of course it is now mainstream behavior. For instance, I will see someone walking her/his dog and almost never losing contact with the phone. S/he’s either listening to it or texting on it. The immediate reality around her–trees, grass, traffic, sky, birds, etc.–is secondary. She must ignore it to live life as she wants to.
I’m also alienated from America’s gun culture, even though, having grown up in the rural Sierra Nevada, I was around guns a lot. But they were treated as tools to be used as needed–almost exclusively for hunting. When not needed, they were put away, and they weren’t discussed, and they weren’t linked to one’s sense of self or politics. Now, of course, guns are everywhere, people display them, take them with them shopping, use them as a political symbol, and use them in massacres. Apparently a massacre-by-gun now occurs every 47 days in the U.S. When I make an infrequent trip to the mall, I always wonder if this will be the day I get shot by a disturbed person further disturbed by online frenzy. America.
Also, death-by-police-shooting is now the sixth leading cause of death of young men–mid teens to mid-twenties. And this is all men, not just Black men, who of course have grown up in a culture that thinks they are expendable. (Alienation is nothing new for Black folks, obviously.)
The bad news is also the good news with my increasing alienation. I used to think I might have some role to play in changing things through activism. Not a chance, as I see now. The culture will go along on its merry way, a way that seems increasingly irrational and lethal to me, and I’m just one of 8 billion people. I assume Trump will be re-elected, and an essentially White Supremacist order of elites will continue to be ascendant, at least as far as power is concerned. The necessary critical mass of white folks doesn’t seem to be materializing to rip the guts out of White Supremacy once and for all. There are simply too many white women and men who require a myth of whiteness to go on. They cling to it as the dog-walker clings to the phone. Accessories include enormous pickup trucks (their enormity not linked to job-requirements in trades) and guns and gun-decals on the mega trucks.
As I become more alienated every day, however, I’m blessed to be able to do things that are part of my personal version of culture: raising vegetables and flowers, watching this or that TV show from Europe, reading, writing, cooking. Occasionally I will look at my phone, but I do not view it as a friend. This is all good news to me. I rarely text with it or even answer calls, most of which seem to be scam-related (another feature of our culture). I find I don’t need a gun on my hip to pull weeds. Crazy, I know.
Those left of Right in the U.S. seem to possess an unerring ability to divide and defeat themselves, and in addition to Jim Crow voter suppression and gerrymandering, this flaw helps keep the White Supremacist Republican Party in power.
For example, I was treated recently to the ghastly spectacle of Intercept comments regarding AG Barr’s declaration that there was no collusion between Trump’s campaign and malevolent Russians. Glenn Greenwald and his enthusiasts trumpeted the “destroyed credibility” of Rachel Maddow and “corporate media.” They barked and meowed ad nauseam about “accountability”–without ever having read the Mueller report. They equated Rachel Maddow’s “delusion” to the propaganda that led to the Iraq invasion, an imbalanced comparison, as Colin Powell, a cabinet official, lied about weapons of mass destruction, and Rachel Maddow is merely a conversationalist; also note that implicitly, we are instructed to disbelieve Powell and believe Barr. Many comments attempted to push back, creating further spectacle and making me lose what hope I had that those left of Right might embrace solidarity, common ground, and (wait for it) a relentless determination to excise Trump from power. To read some Intercept comments, you would think Maddow was a graver threat than Trump, and I’m not exaggerating. Why bother to advance a liberal-progressive-centrist agenda when, as with 2016, you are doing more to elect Trump than the GOP is? The Supreme Court went full White Supremacist because McConnell pulled his Jim Crow stunt but also because Hillary Clinton lost. If you thought/think Clinton is the same as Trump, then you haven’t considered evidence and outcomes.
The dichotomy between centrists and progressive is largely false, and even where it isn’t, it can be bridged. Both C’s and P’s accept the scientific consensus about climate change. Both favor civil rights, voting rights, and immigrant rights. Both want to make voting easier. Both want much broader access to healthcare. Both support women’s rights. And so on.
How can those left of Right best insure winning at the polls? To me this is a far more pertinent question than whether MSNBC is a deluded corporate medium. How can those who label themselves progressive and those who label themselves centrists [does anyone label themselves that?] find common ground so as to (wait for it) get stuff done? I’m all for speaking truth to power, but I’m more interested in those left of Right taking power.
The most recent Democratic presidents were Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. They did not run against the center because they wanted to win. For some reason, they viewed the McGovern example as a bad one. Go figure. Clinton did odious things and pursued some odious policies, and Obama continued some policies that were less than optimal. But they got elected, and they advanced a progressive agenda in many areas. They were an obvious improvement over George Bush I, Robert Dole, John McCain, and Mitt Romney.
Who is actually getting elected–White Supremacist lunatics or those left of Right? Once elected, who is actually getting stuff done, sometimes by means of bridging gaps and reaching some temporary compromises for tactical reasons while pursuing long-game strategies? Inflaming, indeed largely inventing, the progressive/centrist is not responsible because it helps Trump and his thugs.
“There is little doubt that gold is oftener bathed in human blood than in hot suds. A noble king who wished to show his high-mindedness could do no better than have his crown made of iron. Gold is for thieves and swindlers. For this reason they own most of it. The rest is owned by those who do not care where the gold comes from or in what sort of hands it has been.”
Our Chief Executive Thief and Swindler has donned his own kind of gold crown, which he sprays with lacquer every morning. The crown and the rest of the incompetent, racist schtick each day begs the question, “You really can’t do any better than this, America? Seriously?”
|—||The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, by B. Traven|